Tuesday, May 30, 2006

An essay on cancer

Cancer is shit and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy; but it seems to crop up everywhere.

I said, last year, to many people, and I still say, that it is many times more difficult to watch someone go through cancer and cancer treatment than it is to have and to go through it yourself. The stuff that I did and the stuff that I got through wasn’t nice but I just had to deal with one day at a time and get through each moment by doing whatever worked *in* that moment. Other people couldn’t help me, they couldn’t fix it, they couldn’t take any of the pain or misery or fear away; all they could do was to be there, or call me, or email me and listen and read and absorb what I threw at them. And that was enough – that was more than enough; it was fantastic, I couldn’t have managed without it. But to them, I don’t think it really felt like much – I think it makes you feel so helpless.

Last year I was selfish and I don’t regret it: I couldn’t absorb everything I felt; I couldn’t internalise it, I couldn’t hide it; not and also be able to survive. It had to come out somewhere and so I made people listen to me whinge and complain and cry and absorb blow-by-blow accounts of my experiences. I feel and felt badly for doing so: I don’t like to make people sad, I don’t like to make people feel bad or helpless. I wanted to be able to be stoic and spare other people but last year was not the time. I was seriously ill and if there was ever going to be a time when I stopped worrying about other people and started taking what I *needed* then that was the time. I think was also lucky because I had the words – I was able to explain how I felt, the vocabulary – not everyone does.

My tips to the world of people with cancer:

- don’t hide how you feel

- be selfish (for a time)

- let people look after you (for a time)

- take all the help you can get

My tips for people who know someone with cancer:

- Never ask 'what's the prognosis?' You don't really mean that - are you really so insensitive as to basically ask someone if they're going to live? Because that's what that sentence actually means. If you must, then ask about what the treatment is going to be; what the doctors have said but please be sensitive to people. Sometimes we need to tell you everything and sometimes we would pay good money to forget that we have cancer.

- Listening is always enough - it's the best thing you can do. Actual listening - don't try to offer advice or ideas. If there's a solution the hospital/nurses will have suggested it. Sometimes people don't need a solution, they just need to share.

- Checking in is great. The person who called and always said "If this is a bad time or you don't want to talk; then just say so - I'll call you x time to catch up again" was even better. Being able to say 'I don't want to talk" and knowing that you're not hurting someone's feelings is fantastic.

There's probably lots of others but I can't think of them right now......

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